Manchester man charged with killing Michelle Martinko appears in court

Jerry Burns, 64, waives right to speedy trial in the cold-case murder

Jerry Burns appears Monday in Linn County District Court with defense attorney Leon Spies to waive his right to a speedy
Jerry Burns appears Monday in Linn County District Court with defense attorney Leon Spies to waive his right to a speedy trial. Burns is charged with first-degree murder in the 1979 death of Michelle Martinko. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Manchester man accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979 waived his right to speedy trial Monday and will ask the court to move his trial out of Linn County.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover ordered that Jerry Burns, 64, charged with first-degree murder, waive his rights in person. His lawyer previously had filed a written waiver.

Burns appeared in a green jail jumpsuit and came into the courtroom in a wheelchair. He spoke only to affirm he was waiving his right to a speedy trial.

Burns’ attorney, Leon Spies, said the waiver was necessary because the defense still was reviewing evidence in the case and needed time to prepare for trial. The trial was reset to Feb. 10.

A request for a change of venue wasn’t filed as of Monday morning, but Spies said last week he planned to ask the court to move the cold-case murder trial.

A search warrant from last February previously obtained by The Gazette explains how genetic genealogy shared publicly on a website helped lead to the Dec. 19, 2018, arrest of Burns in the 39-year-old case.

According to the affidavit, DNA from two distant cousins, when compared with DNA from the crime scene, led to Burns and his two brothers as possible matches.


His brothers were eliminated. But Burns’ DNA — collected from a soda straw by an investigator in October 2018 without his knowledge — was a match, the document shows.

The probability of finding Burns’ DNA profile among unrelated individuals would be less than 1 in 100 billion, the documents show.

According to another warrant from Dec. 19, authorities believe Burns may have cut himself during the 1979 attack.

A blood stain on the back of Martinko’s dress matched Burns’ DNA, so it’s “logical to assume” his blood got on her dress from being cut “while he was stabbing her,” Cedar Rapids police investigator Matthew Denlinger wrote in the affidavit.

Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Va., told investigators in May about GEDmatch, a public DNA database used to help research family trees. The DNA of the then-unknown suspect was uploaded to the site. That revealed it shared DNA with distant cousin, Brandy Jennings, 40, of Vancouver, Wash.

Jennings, a second cousin twice removed related to Burns through her maternal great-grandparents, told The Gazette in March she had forgotten about uploading her DNA to the database.

Jennings was mentioned in the Feb. 5 warrant but said she was never contacted by police. She said she doesn’t know Burns or any of his family members and has no ties to Iowa.

The February warrant also revealed that activity on Burns’ office computer included searches for “blonde females, assault, rape, strangulation, murder, abuse and rape of a deceased individual, and cannibalism.”


In the warrant, Cedar Rapids police investigator Jeff Holst noted Martinko was blond, attacked, assaulted with a blunt force injury to her head and stabbed about 21 times. She had defensive wounds consistent with fighting off her attacker before she died.

Burns, during a Dec. 19, 2018, interview with police, denied knowing Martinko or being at the crime scene.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick on Dec. 19, 1979, in a parking lot of Westdale Mall. The Kennedy High School senior had left a school choir banquet and drove to the mall to buy a winter coat. Her body was found the next day, court records show.

Burns remains in jail on a $5 million cash-only bail.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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